The Trans Afrika Bike Race 2016 – Race Report 1
We are left with only 4 riders to start the race from the 10 entrants this year. The main problem appears to be work related and people are having a really hard time in the recession that is taking place at the moment. That said the 4 remaining riders Johan Jansen Van Rensburg (RSA), Kenny Fagan (RSA_, Chris Phillips (UK) and Andi Buchs (SWISS) were all keen to get up to Beit Bridge and get riding the longest and toughest ride in Southern Afrika.
The Trans Afrika traverses South Afrika, Swaziland and Lesotho as the riders progress from the Zimbabwe/South Africa border post to Cape Town. 2800 kilometers and around 36000 meters of ascent. The current record was set in 2015 by Steffen Streich a native German living in Greece in a time of 8 Days 19 Hours and 28 minutes.
This year we did something different and had a peloton ride from the border post on Saturday and started the actual race from Messina at 03h00 on Sunday. 1 hour will be added to all the riders’ times. The border is becoming harder to get access to and the border road has a lot of traffic on it. Our fantastic friend of the race Captain Mills of the South African Police Service provided access and an escort. Without Captain Mills support and that of Captain Nkosi we would not be granted access to the Beit Bridge. Thank you.
After a meal at the Spur on Saturday night the riders bedded down early. Then it rained and we were treated to a huge thunderstorm until 02h00 Sunday morning. There is nothing like the smell of the air after a good rain. On waking we found out that Johan had a stomach bug. After taking the medicine and stocking up on toilet rolls he joined the other riders at the start line in Messina.
At 03h00 the riders were off and heading for Tshipise and the Nzheledam. Andi Buchs managed to ride into a pothole however he was ok and his bike was not damaged but his camera took some serious strain. We will have to wait and see if it’s still working. Chris took off and was leading out Kenny who was last years Lantern Rouge winner. Kenny has lightened up on his gear and is looking lean and mean this year.
The road to the dam was smooth until the turn and then it became a rutted hell of a ride until the tar. All the riders were relieved to hit the tar. With starting early this year we were able to escape the heat of previous years and it seemed in no time Chris was at Thohoyandou and heading for the Nandoni Dam. Andi had overtaken Kenny and both were heading into Thohoyandou separated by 45 minutes.
Johan decided to stay at Thohoyandou for the night to try and rehydrate. Johan left on Monday at 03h00 and at the time of writing was battling huge head winds riding between Giyani and Gravalotte. Johan is showing the spirit of the race and hanging in there.
Kenny had spent the night at Letsitele and left early overtaking Andi who slept at Gravalotte. Chris out front had slept at Mica and is heading for Barberton hoping to make the border post with Swaziland before the 16h00 closure. It only opens again at 08h00.
Chris who is an experienced Audax and adventure cyclist is riding within himself at the moment and using his experience to make smart choices as to how fast to go, when to eat and where to sleep.
It’s fair to say that all 4 riders have done their homework and have a plan A and B as to what distance to ride, where to stay ect. Kenny has trimmed down the weight on his bike considerably from last year. Smart riding. This type of racing is not for your average rider. You need to not only be fit but also be able to think in extreme conditions. Plan and adapt. These riders are unsupported and this makes the race 200% harder. Add in our African conditions, well let’s just say it’s pretty tough, the riders will be able to tell you.
Today will be a slog due to the winds and I suspect that the old mining town of Barberton will be the focal point for the riders tonight with the climb up to Bulembu and Piggs Peak in Swaziland being tackled early tomorrow morning. Andi is on his last spare tube after riding over a bag of nails that appear to have fallen off someone’s vehicle. It could be a long walk today! Kenny is slogging on trying to keep his head down and Chris in his sights. We all know that these races are not won in the first couple of days but keeping your competition close helps for when you want to make a move.
Once the riders are through Swaziland then they will hit the wide-open roads of the Free State. This weekend we again had snow in Lesotho and the temperatures on the Moteng Pass are looking very cold for when the riders ascend. We will have to wait and see.
Safe riding and we hope to see you soon.
Andy & Liz